The Dos and Don'ts of Telecommunting in the Age of COVID-19

By now most office types in the developed world have come to the realization that the Coronavirus has the capacity to charge work life forever. In the past decade, office space environments have become a place where people show up, drink some coffee together and chat for a bit, and then retire to their desktops for a few hours, then break for lunch. Sprinkle in a few meetings here and there, but that is essentially it. People tapping away at their keyboards, something they can do anywhere. Virtualization, VPNs, high speed connections and teleconferencing software has changed how people work, and when the dust has cleared on the COVID-19, there is no guarantee companies will require people to come back and work in the same space together. So as we all begin to accept our new normal and try to adjust to what might be the new reality for work culture, some tips and ideas on how to make tolerable and even productive for you at your home office.

Don't Sleep In

As tempting as it may sound, sleeping in will only eliminate the gift you've been given. Even though your morning commute has been reduced to a minute or two, you can use your morning to enjoy your coffee in peace (as opposed to the bus or in your car), cook a proper breakfast, do some calming yoga stretches, meditate, take the dog for a walk, take yourself for a walk, anything that your old routine wouldn't allow. This will get you ready for your day when you finally sit down at your workstation at 8am or whenever your day starts. And don't forget to make your bed.

Stay Comfortable

While most employers in year 2020 don't care if you wear your pajamas and bare feet to 'work', you might feel a bit more 'ready' if you have actual clothes on. Make sure you you have a good chair and a stand-up desk if possible. This idea of telecommuting might sound quite forward-thinking and even radical and progressive, but there is nothing positive to say about an aching back and neck because of too much time spend hunched over your desk. Work on your posture and have a pillow or other back-supporting device.

Pick the Right Soundtrack

Whether it is silence, classical music, rain forest noises, a good podcast or Nirvana's Nevermind, if your oratory senses are stimulated correctly, you may see increases in productivity. But be careful not to disrupt creative productivity and learning with noise. Some studies show that while listening to music while performing tedious, repetitive, monotonous tasks is fine, but writing, learning and creating usually requires a certain degree of focus that listening music can break. Find what works for you, pick your spots, and don't let the relaxing and joyous sensation of listening to music interfere with getting real, actual work done.

Stay Organized

Yes, you've go this new found freedom and yes, you don't have to attend those dreary team building meetings (in person at least). You can even eat a sandwich at your desk without feeling embarrassed or slovenly, but this is not time to get complacent or lazy. You need to take advantage of your flexible schedule and squeeze as much productivity out of your day. By keeping and maintaining a detailed daily schedule you can keep track of your task and assignments, while still carving out time for new projects. Limit distractions and stay on schedule.

Develop new Skills

How many words can you type in a minute? How many errors do you make while typing? If you spend time in from of a computer, then tying is a big part of your life. So, doesn't it make sense to optimize this part of your life so that you have time for other things? Take a few minutes every day to practice and test your typing skills and avoid the hunting and pecking. Typing is an obvious one, but there are dozens of other light technical skills that you can learn from watching YouTube videos. Plus, there are some excellent free and paid teleconferencing solutions from companies like Zoom, Citrix, Cisco, Facebook, Google, Microsoft Glance and others. Take some time to learn which ones work best for your needs, and which ones your company wants you to use.

Stay Healthy

This means stay both physically healthy and mentally healthy.

  • Clean Out Your Keyboard. Wipe down an clean off your work space and keyboard with anti-bacterial and anti-viral wipes. germs can linger on surfaces and you don't wan to get laid out by a cold or flu virus. Use a compressed air-duster to blast out hair, eyelashes, dust and other debris from your keyboard. It will keep your keyboard clean and functioning, and it is very, very satisfying and fun!
  • Stretch. Get up and stretch you legs every 45 minutes or so. You need blood to circulate to your limbs and brain if you're going to survive this sedentary existence for 8 hours a day. Also, is good for your overall well-being to keep you body limber.
  • Meditate. Rest and rejuvenation will keep outside distractions away and help you keep a calm and clear mind. Clearing your head, or 'clearing your cache' is a skill that take time and practice. Try it out daily.
  • Exercise. When your day is over, go out and get some exercise. Get your hearth thumping and you blood pumping. It feels great, it is good for you and it'll help put your eyes and mind at ease.

However long it lasts, employers and employees will be taking detailed notes on what worked and what didn't during this enforced 'work-from-home mandate. For workers impacted, use this time wisely and develop good habits for future survival.


Is Free Public Wi-Fi Safe?

If you work remotely or travel a lot for your job, you probably take advantage of free public Wi-Fi often. Unfortunately, that probably means you’re regularly opening up your devices and your data to serious security threats. And if you’re a heavy user of cloud services, which often store your data on a remote server rather than your computer, Wi-Fi security is even more crucial.

Most people these days have password-protected networks at home, so it’s unlikely that anybody is able to snoop on your data as it passes between your device and your router. But when you’re surfing the Web via a free public Wi-Fi at a cafe, library or airport, you should be suspicious of everyone, says technology consultant Leo Notenboom of “It’s trivially easy for any of them to be watching your unencrypted information flying by.”

Here’s what you need to know to stay safe next time you’re surfing on a free public Wi-Fi connection.

Free Public Wi-Fi Tip No. 1: Turn on your firewall.
The cafe might use firewall software to protect your computer from outside attacks, but that doesn’t protect you from other people surfing around the same Wi-Fi network inside the cafe. Be sure your computer’s firewall is turned on.

Free Public Wi-Fi Tip No. 2: Protect your smartphone or tablet.
If your smartphone or tablet connects to Wi-Fi networks, require it to ask your permission before joining any network. A lot of people never change the default network name, so if you logged on to your friend’s “linksys” network, your device will remember that and could automatically join any network of the same name in the future -- unless you tell it to ask your permission first.

Free Public Wi-Fi Tip No. 3: Use strong encryption.

Encryption works by disguising data that your computer wirelessly sends to a router. Without it, that person sitting near you at the cafe could use special software to intercept and see all the data that travels back and forth between your device and the router. And that means everything: emails, passwords and things you search for. That’s why it’s imperative, says Notenboom, to use encrypted sites when possible.

How do you know when a site offers encryption? Instead of “http” at the beginning of the address, you’ll see “https.” You’ll also see a little padlock icon in your browser window, usually on the bottom right.

What else should you consider encrypting?

  • Your email. If you use a locally installed email program such as Outlook or Entourage, you can protect your mail and passwords by using something called SSL (secure sockets layer) on each of your accounts. This encrypts all your data when you send and receive email. Not all email providers allow the use of SSL, though, so check your provider’s help page.
  • Your Facebook and Twitter pages. Facebook and Twitter recently began offering encrypted sessions; just go into your account settings and find the option that says “Always use https.”
  • Your Google search. If you think the keywords you’re searching could be embarrassing or you prefer to keep your privacy, try the secure version of Google search. Instead of going to, do all of your searching at
  • Everything. Consider a VPN service. VPN stands for virtual private network and encrypts everything you send and receive. You can download free mobile VPN software from such a site as Hotspot Shield and everything -- instant messages, passwords, emails and websites -- will be virtually impenetrable to prying eyes whenever you’re using a free public Wi-Fi connection. Or if your employer offers its own VPN, always connect to it through your computer or mobile device.

“That guy in the corner of Starbucks with his laptop -- do you trust him with your private data?” asks Notenboom. Follow these Wi-Fi safety tips, and you won’t ever have to ever wonder.

Keep Your Data Safe When Telecommuting

Thanks to the Web, more and more people are working remotely -- from home or anywhere. But not commuting anymore doesn't mean you don't have the same security issues that your corporate-office counterparts do. Here's how to protect your data, devices and computer without an IT department:

1. Back up your data in the cloud.
It’s easy to lose all your work: One computer virus or hard-disk-drive meltdown, and your important files may vanish forever. That’s why, when working from home, backup is crucial. Instead of depending on bulky hardware, try the many cloud services on the Web. They back up new content every night while you sleep, keeping your files safe and allowing you access from any computer at any time.

"Backup used to be cost-prohibitive," says Phil Montero, founder and CEO of an online resource called You Can Work From Anywhere. But these days, many online services charge as little as $50 per year, depending on your needs. Mozy even offers certain amounts of backup for free. If you’re only backing up documents, Google Docs is another good bet.

2. Protect your computer and critical files.
If your employer issues you a PC or laptop to use at home, they'll often install security software or a Web-based security service to block viruses or bar hackers. But if you are self-employed, the burden of protecting your computer and data from the increasing array of online security threats falls squarely on your shoulders.

When choosing a cloud-based security service, be sure it protects your computer with antivirus, spyware and firewall programs. It should also constantly updates to protect you against evolving threats.

You should also limit your family members’ access to your work computer. "You have to be sure that the really critical stuff isn't made accessible to someone who shouldn't have access to it," says Jack M. Nilles, founder of JALA International, a global telecommuting consulting company. "That includes the kids getting on your computer and downloading something [harmful]."

Finally, keep passwords and ID numbers private so they don’t fall into the wrong hands.

3. Seamlessly collaborate with others.
Whether you work on your home computer once a week or full time, if you need to share files with colleagues, synchronization tools can help ensure you (or your team) are working on the correct or latest version of a document. The “old” way to do this was to copy the files from your home computer onto an external hard drive, CD or thumb drive and install them on your work computer. But this process sets you up for accidentally writing over the most recent files -- and what if this external backup device you were depending on is destroyed or lost?

Cloud services enable you to sync automatically to ensure speedy backups. Or try Microsoft’s FolderShare, which allows you to synchronize files with colleagues over the Web.

There's no doubt to the benefits of Web to the home office worker. That said, you want to be smart about security issues. To really cover your bases, in addition to backing up and securing your data, Niles also says it's important to get a clear protocol from your company or clients: "We recommend that telecommuters working for a company have a formal agreement specifically stating who is responsible for what." This way, you can always fall back on the agreed-upon security plan for your best-quality work away from your IT department.

Living Safely in the ‘Cloud’

It's holiday time! Aside from a noticeable change from sunny to cloud-filled skies, this time of year ushers in increased shopping and social activities. Taking place not only in the “real world” but also online, they can expose you to possible infections.

Like most online shoppers, you may not be completely aware of how to protect yourself from online identity theft and other online threats, such as fraud, email scams, phishing and virus attacks. You are banking, shopping and living more of your life on the Web, unaware that as you access information and leave your cyber fingerprint behind, you’re also leaving a trail of identity crumbs.

But cyber threats ramp up and rain down viciously during this time of year! Can you root them out on your own? Probably not. So if you're not a computer security expert -- and you don’t have a squad of security elves waiting readily at your disposal -- how do you protect yourself from identity theft and other online threats?

Watching the Weather
Forrester Research and other business and technology analysts are predicting rapid change in the cyber security environment -- a shift from traditional software product solutions to what is referred to as “software as a service,” or SaaS. The advantage of SaaS in the “cloud” is that it gives you affordable, subscription-based access to a full suite of best-in-class security software solutions without you having to download and install bulky programs to your PC -- or pay for upgrades!

Sweet! … But what is the “cloud”? The cloud is a general term that refers to having remote access to your personal digital files and many applications from anywhere on any Internet-connected PC or mobile device, at any time, on a pay-as-you-go basis. Most importantly, being “in the cloud” means that this software floats on the Internet instead of being tied to any one of your devices, providing a protective layer between you and potential security threats. Better yet, it means you will never have to download another update, worry about losing data or wonder how your ever-rotating arsenal of digital devices will stay safe online.

Is online holiday shopping sounding safer yet? It should. Shifting the home base of cyber security and identity protection from your own much-loved but admittedly fragile digital devices to the cloud ensures that you will bask in the shade of an Internet-sized umbrella. An umbrella that will rotate to meet your security needs when you need them the most -- like now, as you send out more precious personal financial data than ever in the name of holiday cheer!

Much of what you do is already in the cloud. (You have a laptop, iPhone or Smartphone, you access webmail, backup files online, or share and store photos on Facebook or Picasa, then you are already living in a personal cloud or soon will be!) And guess what? More cloud services are headed your way!

The Cloud Has You Covered
Cloud computing is like having your own handler or personal assistant to take care of all the tasks you don’t like to do or aren’t good at -- and luckily, security is at the top of your delegation list. Imagine not having to worry about the latest virus attack, drive-by downloaded worm, key loggers that steal your passwords or even “scare-ware” that looks like a legitimate alert from your security software but ends up infecting your computer instead. The cloud keeps you safe, offering you these advantages:

  • A total security umbrella. It completely protects your private information; blocks spyware, adware and Trojans; proactively detects and rejects viruses and worms; slams spam; and stops hackers. To prevent identity theft, it protects and manages your passwords, encrypts bank account numbers and monitors credit card activity for fraud. This makes your holiday shopping safer, and banking from any PC or Internet-connected device becomes worry-free all year-round.
  • Speed and performance. In-the-cloud services are always on, applications are updated automatically and the latest bugs are fixed on the fly. Processing capacity is distributed, optimizing both Internet speed and PC performance. Your music collection, photo albums and other digital documents? They’re all stored securely, accessible to you or your authorized users only.
  • More convenience and savings. You can choose from a diverse selection of applications to meet every need, and you can access them along with their private documents from anywhere on any device at any time. Services are scalable, meaning you can add more or use less depending on your needs without huge installation headaches. Like a utility, you only pay for what you use … and that leaves more money for shopping!

Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining
While securing personal identity, data and other sensitive information will continue to be a top concern for cloud service providers and their customers, the future of cloud computing is bright. As more services move to the cloud, the National Cyber Safety Alliance and other cyber crime fighting specialists are stepping up to the task of eliminating vulnerabilities, using real-time and predictive threat prevention innovations to keep your computer safe. In fact, an automated cloud-based malware research database monitors the behavior of more than 125 million executable threats and adds updated protection for more than 30,000 new threats every day!

With the holiday shopping season now here, knowing how to protect yourself from online identity theft and a host of deceptive fraud schemes is critical. Ensure you are protected by a total cloud-based security umbrella so you and your loved ones can search, surf, share, shop and celebrate the season safely. Have a safe, secure, and happy holiday season!

Steve Jobs: 6 Secrets of Success

When Steve Jobs died in October 2011, fans erected makeshift shrines at Apple stores and posted thousands of tributes online.

Much of the buzz in the following days was about some of the less-flattering portraits from Walter Isaacson’s biography. When Jobs’ sister, Mona Simpson, revealed his last words (“Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.”) in her eulogy, it seemed like almost everyone reposted them on Facebook.

So if anything, it seems those varied portraits that emerged after his death allowed the world to see Jobs as he really was: human. His success, however, was no doubt nothing short of extraordinary. How did he do it? Here are six pieces of inspiration from Jobs himself, as quoted in past interviews.

1. Follow your passion.
In a 2005 commencement address at Stanford University, Jobs told graduates to find the work they love.

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”

2. Remember that your time is limited.

In the same address, Jobs talked about his cancer diagnosis and how it fueled his drive.

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything -- all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure -- these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

3. Surround yourself with great people.

Although he was given the credit, Jobs always denied that his return to Apple was the one thing that led to the company’s reclaimed success. Here’s what he said in an interview with “60 Minutes”:

“My model for business is The Beatles. They were four guys who kept each other’s kind of negative tendencies in check. They balanced each other and the total was greater than the sum of the parts. That’s how I see business: Great things in business are never done by one person; they’re done by a team of people.”

4. Keep it simple.

When Jobs returned to Apple, he killed off all of the company’s products save a few. Apple then threw its energies into making those products dominate their markets. As Jobs told Business Week in 2004:

“[Innovation] comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much. We’re always thinking about new markets we could enter, but it’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.”

5. Seek out diverse experiences.

Jobs didn’t live his life in the vacuum of Silicon Valley. In the 1970s, he studied Buddhism, Zen philosophy and meditation. He traveled to India in search of a guru. He would later tell Wired magazine that diverse experiences are what lead to creative thinking.

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.”

6. Push people to do their best.

Jobs could be a punishing boss, but he gets credit for making people push themselves further than they thought they could go. As he told his biographer, Walter Isaacson:

“I’ve learned over the years that when you have really good people, you don’t have to baby them. By expecting them to do great things, you can get them to do great things. The original Mac team taught me that A-plus players like to work together, and they don’t like it if you tolerate B work.”

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